The Centre Oblat at the Ecclesial Networks Alliance for Integral Ecology meeting in Rome


The Centre Oblat at the Ecclesial Networks Alliance for Integral Ecology meeting in Rome

From 2 to 4 July at the Vatican’s San Calisto Palace, representatives from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania and Europe reflected on the identity, vocation and mission of the “Ecclesial Networks Alliance for Integral Ecology” (ENA). Joe Gunn, staff of Le Centre Oblat in Ottawa, serves on the worldwide coordinating committee of this “network of networks” which seeks to apply Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ to the pressing questions of our time.

Attending were 45 members of ENA from around the world. The three Canadian participants included Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Saskatchewan and Lisa Raven of Hollow Water, MB. Lisa is known to many Oblates as the Executive Director of  “Returning to Spirit,” and her description of the ENA meeting can be seen in this short video, available on the YouTube channel of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

This first meeting of its kind was unique in the sense that since 2019’s Synod on the Amazon in Rome, “networks” have become increasingly recognized as crucial ecclesial actors in the mission of the Church. Currently, seven biomes from around the globe are attempting to operationalize the Gospel incentive of care for our common home in networks such as Amazonia (REPAM), Mesoamerica (REMAM), Acuifero Guarani and Gran Chacho (REGCHAG), Congo Basin (REBAC), Asia Pacific and Oceania (RAOEN), and other networks in Canada, the United States and Europe. Due to the COVID pandemic, Catholic environmental activists had not previously been able to share in person their specific insights into how mutually enforcing activities of action for justice could sustain each other and bring new evangelical vision to the Church itself.

A highlight of the first day of the meeting was a panel, organized by the Canadians and Latin Americans, on the Doctrine of Discovery. Rescinding the Doctrine had been a demand of Indigenous from around the globe and was a controversial theme during Pope Francis’ penitential pilgrimage to Canada last year.

Archbishop Bolen moderated the discussion. His introduction noted “at least 4 important areas of discussion: colonization and its continuing impact, how it shapes economic structures and systemic problems today, especially for Indigenous Peoples; the way that the church deals with the failings of the past, in order to be faithful to its God-given mission in the present, which includes standing in solidarity where there is injustice, seeking the common good and being an instrument of reconciliation; the importance of finding a new way for the church to walk with Indigenous Peoples; and the wisdom of Indigenous ways of being in relationship with the rest of creation, of living on the land in a sustainable way that respects the integrity of creation.”

On March 30th of this year, the Vatican’s Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development issued a joint statement on the “Doctrine of Discovery”.  While “a step in the right direction” the joint statement must be followed up by our concrete action, suggested Lisa Raven, the first speaker. Lisa reminded all that “a turtle only moves forward when he sticks his neck out,” while she also reminded all that “a stumble is also a step!” Encouraged by her remarks, four other Indigenous people then spoke to how the Doctrine and the joint statement have been received in their territories.

That such a panel was designed as the way to begin the three days of deliberations was instructive to how such networks can bring new life to the work of the Church. Pope Francis constantly refers to “the peripheries” as being the location of the Spirit of God, and how evangelizers must continually strive to be present, to listen deeply to the cries of the Earth and of the poor, and then humbly live the Gospel message there. Where else would the voices of those most usually marginalized – Indigenous peoples, women, and the poor, for example – have their voices heard first in any Vatican encounter?

Other highlights of the meeting included two sessions with key leaders of the Curia. The Secretary General of the upcoming Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, spoke very openly as to how the October Synod on Synodality has attempted to receive input from across the globe, and how 25% of the delegates will (for the first time) include people who are not bishops. The Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Michael Czerny, also met with participants for two hours, explaining the new workplans of the Dicastery so it becomes more fully at the service of our shared goals. Cardinal Czerny highlighted how this meeting “shows that there are new ways to confront the challenges of integral ecology in various world regions, without trying to homogenize or institutionalize them.” Rather, he said, “We come together to listen, to exchange ideas, to pray and to then continue this journey together in this ENA, strengthening an even deeper collaboration and reflection.”

By Joe Gunn